Author's Notes: This fanfic focuses on Hinata and Gaara and the POV is usually through one of them with a few exceptions. This story has one chapter (chapter 8) that holds a sex scene and can be skipped without missing anything vital.
Suna's weather wasn't nearly as devastating as she had thought it would be. While it was hot and dry it wasn't 'flesh melting' as Kiba had insisted upon. Of course, he had also sworn that the moment she stepped into the desert that all the water would evaporate from her body and she'd get there as nothing more than muscles and bones, if she were so lucky. She was pretty sure those were simply his methods of saying 'don't leave Konoha for six months to go off on some Ambassador-style mission when you could stay home and do more awesome missions with your old squad' but she hadn't pointed it out due to wanting to save him some 'manly pride'.
Don't worry Kiba-kun, I'll miss you too.
As Hyuuga Hinata made her final few steps towards the Suna gate, she had to shield her eyes from the sun. In the distance she saw someone approach from the natural rock barrier, slender and tall. A shift from the side made her regard her cousin Neji from the corner of her eye. He was there as her escort and would only be staying for a few days, but had requested to accompany her himself.
Over the years, Suna had become a more prosperous hidden village under Gaara's rule. The relationship between Suna and Konoha is currently at its all time high with Naruto Uzumaki as the current Hokage. The only down side has been that due to their location and lack of natural resources, Suna has always been heavily reliant on other nations for imports, meaning that there are things they simply lack. A good medical field is one of them. It is not that the medical ninja for Suna are incompetent or lack knowledge, simply that the available herbs and books have been limited for quite some time. A promise made by Tsunade to exchange medical information had been thwarted by Pein's attack on Konoha, followed by Madara's plans.
During the war it had been simply too difficult to try and send anyone from Konoha to Suna to deal with medical exchanges. Pein's attack had led to the destruction of numerous medical documents that had been too difficult if not almost impossible to recover. The years it had taken to rebuild their old database had been long and arduous indeed. Even now, years after the war and with Naruto a year in as Hokage, the wealth of knowledge that Konoha held concerning medicine was only at an estimated seventy five percent. For Suna, however, it was enough and the promise Tsunade gave to Suna was upheld.
It had taken a few months to get everything ready. An 'ambassador' would be sent and would stay in Suna for six months to set up a proper program. The ambassador would keep the Kazekage informed of anything and everything that Konoha wanted to introduce and inform him of any ideas or future plans, if any. Any new herbs or products would be screened through his medical team first and reports would be given to Gaara personally. This project was important for the future health of the village, meaning the Kazekage desired to be personally involved in any way possible.
Hinata had volunteered for this mission. As a jounin medical ninja, she had the knowledge and experience to lead the expedition and set up a proper program. As a Hyuuga, her ambassador status was a way for her to do something good for her family now that they were under…different rules. At the moment, the clan was in a state of unrest. Many clan members did not want or enjoy change and eliminating the branch house definitely constituted as a 'really big change'. The closer Hinata grew to potentially becoming the new leader, the more unsettled the council elders became. Hiashi had abolished the houses, but that didn't mean the entire clan felt it would stay that way. The push to place Hanabi as leader instead of Hinata had become fierce over the years, for it was well known that Hinata had no intentions of reestablishing the houses. Hanabi was deemed as being 'easier to mold', due to her young age as far as rumors went and the entire situation had placed Hinata under quite a bit of stress. Gentle prodding from Neji to take the mission and leave the Hyuuga for a while had never been more welcome.
And so here she was, walking through the hot desert at noontime, the sun at its peak and blinding her. Even though she felt as if she were dying with her jacket and baggy pants on, she was also grateful for its protection as she felt the sun's rays trying to seep in and burn her sensitive skin. Hyuuga were normally pale for a reason.
"Hey there!" came the voice of the Suna escort as they drew near. Hinata still could not properly see them due to the glaring light of the sun, but when Neji visibly relaxed beside her, she offered up her best smile and ventured forward.
"Hello," she began "We apologize for being half a day late…"
"Don't worry about it." The voice is definitely female and as she nears, Hinata's expression brightens. It is Temari, Gaara's older sister and ambassador for Suna. The tall blonde is wearing a plain dark purple kimono, her fan strapped to her back as always. Pale green eyes, sharp as a kunai, take the two Hyuuga's in with a pleased expression. She waves off Hinata's apology. "You're just lucky you came when you did. We're expecting sand storms this time of year, and Gaara says it'll probably happen within the next few days." She shrugs "The wind feels a bit off to me as well, and he's never wrong."
"Oh…" the smaller woman nods, understanding "Well then, I'm thankful. I wouldn't want to be caught up in a sand storm."
"Indeed." Neji chose this time to chime in, taking a step forward. "Forgive the intrusion. I insisted on escorting Hinata-sama, although you were told to expect only one person. I'll only be imposing for a few days, to ensure that she settles in properly. I hope you all received the message in time."
Temari turned and motioned for them to follow her as she walked towards her home "It's no problem. Let's walk and talk," when they fell into step behind her, she continued "We did get your message and Gaara is glad that you decided to stop by. He'd like to speak to you before you leave."
"I would be honored."
Not much else was said as they walked through the pass, comfortable silence filling the air. Hinata took it all in, the guards stationed in grooves of the rock face, watching a long range of the desert. The wall leading into the village was massive, at Hinata's height she had to strain her neck if she wanted to really see how high it went. It was different from Konoha's gate, as this one was more natural and not nearly as ornate. Walking through the pass was also an interesting experience, for in Konoha once you entered the gate you could see everything immediately. Once through pale eyes took in village below which was…barren in comparison to Konoha, but Hinata did not find it desolate or unpleasant. She liked how the homes were round to accommodate the desert's harsh environment. With the entire village looking as if it were part of the natural landscape, the kunoichi found it a pleasant contrast.
The Hyuuga soon learned the village was also not a highly busy one. Unlike Konoha where there were always hordes of people out and about, Suna was more quiet and reserved. If people were out, it was normally for a reason, shopping or training. As they ventured further into the streets, Hinata noticed odd shops here and there, most of them selling specialty goods or services.
She chose this time to break the silence. "Does Suna have any open markets?" she asked, still observing her surroundings. The two Hyuuga's had both agreed prior not to use the Byakugan to scout around during their stay to keep from seeming intrusive. Turning slightly, Temari gave the woman a small smirk from behind.
"You guys do all of your shopping outside, but our markets and major stores are all inside at various buildings." she explained "Our environment doesn't allow for the type of open markets you have back in Konoha. We also have to import a lot of our seafood and other meats, although we do have some inside farms and culture pools for some fish. If you want, I can show you these places after you meet with Gaara. The only catch is that he wants to meet with you guys again for dinner so we won't be able to venture out for too long."
"Oh no, that's all right," Hinata shook her head, a strained smile on her face "We don't want to impose. We'll explore the markets and shops on our own but for now I know you probably have a few things you want to take care of with us."
A shrug was all she got from Temari and then there was silence once more.
The remaining walk to the Kazekage's dome hadn't been terribly long. It was massive, similar to the Hokage's own abode and sat in the middle of the village, large and somewhat imposing. Like the other buildings it was undecorated, only the Kazekage's symbol stood out.
Inside, however, was different. Various shades of red and brown littered the halls in simple but fashionable ways. There seemed to be a wide range rooms and halls that Hinata would have to become familiar with during her stay, but for now she merely took in the basic view. Council members and other important figures rushed by them, giving the two Hyuuga's strange looks as they passed. Even without their Byakugan they could sense the presence of eyes on them, possibly other ninja. Temari led them to a wide door that also held the symbol of the Kazekage. She entered without knocking, her stance completely relaxed.
Gaara's office looked very similar to Naruto's. It was simply decorated, a potted catcus here, a picture there, nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary. The redhead sat at the desk, his back slightly bent as he examined the papers in front of him. His skin was as pale as ever, that red hair still unruly, coming down to frame a slender, more mature face. The dark rings around his eyes were permanent, outlining the coolness of his pale green eyes. He did not look up from his paperwork at first, although Hinata was sure he noticed them even before they entered the building.
"The ambassador and her escort have arrived." Temari formally announced "You wanted to see them." It was a statement. Hinata refrained from shifting uncomfortably at the familiarity. Even though Naruto was her friend she still would never speak to him so bluntly, especially around guests. Gaara didn't seem to mind, in fact, he made no initial reaction at all.
After about a minute the Kazekage's gaze slowly lifted to take in the foreigners. His eyes first settled on Neji who stared back with equal calmness. The two males took each other in, almost as if sizing the other up. A few moments passed and his attention shifted to Hinata.
She was not well acquainted with Gaara and this was one of the few times she had seen him since the chunin exams. The young woman tensed slightly at the sharp gaze, unsure of what to expect, but relaxed soon enough. Eyes that she had remembered looking so dangerous, sad, and hungry for blood were now replaced with an inner calm and kindness. Eyes that were so much like Naruto's and so completely different.
I hope you're doing okay Naruto-kun…
"You are not Sakura Haruno," the calm voice of the Kazekage. The blank expression on his face did not change although there was a slight hint of confusion in his voice. "We were told that she would lead the initial program. Is she unwell?"
Both Hyuuga's stiffen, causing the two sand siblings to exchange brief looks. Hinata could feel Neji's sympathetic stare as he stood beside her and she takes a deep mental breath before deciding to speak. She bowed politely.
"I am Hyuuga Hinata, one of the lead medical jounin shinobi in Konoha," she began "Sakura-san is unable to come due to…personal and medical issues that came up unexpectedly. I volunteered to take her place so she could serve the village adequately and take care of her personal needs."
A hairless eyebrow rose at that. "You mean…the issue with Sasuke Uchiha's return from the dead?"
The two Konoha shinobi blinked at the redhead. "You know…?" Neji sounded surprised.
"We received the encrypted message shortly before your arrival," Temari explained to the two "We know that Sasuke has returned to Konoha with almost no memory of who he was before he left and seemingly from the dead. We heard that he also had some serious scarring, is half blind and in medical custody until properly treated."
"We've been asked to assist in any way we can," Gaara continued "Since the moment the other villages find out, they will want to hold a war trial on Sasuke. I know Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha were…close. We have agreed to assist in the matter, but that is all we can say for now."
Hinata nodded. Yes, even she had limited knowledge as to what Naruto was going to do now that Sasuke had returned. Years after the war had ended and Sasuke had supposedly died at the hands of Naruto himself, the Uchiha returned to the place of his birth. The situation was currently causing tension between Naruto and Sakura, who were currently engaged to be married. Sakura's love for Sasuke had never truly left her, she had just moved on. It had taken a while for Naruto and Sakura to even start dating, the tensions and the past they held between them had kept the two at a distance. With Sasuke back, the gap that had been mended over time had been violently ripped open, leaving them at emotional odds with each other. The two of them were her friends and it pained her to see them obviously so unhappy.
Especially when she had finally gotten over the pain of losing him. They deserved to be happy.
"Yes, so um…" she resisted the urge to fidget. Twenty three years old and she still at times had problems fidgeting and wanting to twirl her fingers. At least she had somewhat solved her stuttering problem "So I'm Sakura-san's replacement. I hope it is not too much of a disappointment. I can give you my credentials if you would like..."
"No, I trust Konoha. I'm sure you're more than capable." Gaara said softly in reassurance "I was simply surprised. We had received word that Neji Hyuuga was escorting, but not that you were replacing Haruno." Finally he stood, surprising Hinata with his shocking new height. Last time she had really seen him he had been about the same height as Naruto when the Hokage had been sixteen. Now Gaara was much taller, his shoulders wider, his frame that of a fully grown male. He wore the robes of the Kazekage at the moment, the white seeming to be a sharp contrast to the red of his hair. Slowly, he closed the distance between himself and the two Hyuuga, his eyes betraying the expressionless mask of his face. Those eyes were warm and inviting and Hinata found herself amazed by how much he had changed over the years.
"Thank you for coming," he remarked formally "I know it's been a long trip for you both, so I do not wish to take up much of your time for today." His gaze shifted to Hinata "I look forward to seeing your ideas for the program. My people have been instructed to assist you in any way possible. While you are here, you will stay here with my siblings and myself in one of the guest rooms. We can discuss the particulars later, for now, please allow Temari to escort you to your rooms so you can get settled in. If you are not too tired, I was hoping we could have our discussion over a dinner. None of the council will be present, just Temari, Kankuro, myself and the two of you. That meeting will be later this week. Is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
So different. He was so different from when she had initially 'met' him that it seemed that day in the forest had never happened. The feeling of fear had lingered with her so long as it had been the first time she had ever really seen anyone murdered. She could still remember how his eyes had looked then. The sensation of anger, sadness and loneliness had been overwhelming. Eyes that had seemed so cold and yet so familiar to her at the same time. It had taken her years and a few blissfully ignorant comments from Naruto for it to click.
Now Gaara's eyes were almost exactly like Naruto's, except there was more calm and serenity, while Naruto's eyes tended to blaze with emotion and feeling. She was sure with others it would probably be difficult to tell, but being a Hyuuga and being sensitive to observing, Gaara's eyes were as good as a facial expression for her. His kindness and warmth were infectious and Hinata found herself not only relaxing but smiling up at him.
"No, we don't want to take up too much of your time." Hinata turned to Temari "Um, whenever you are ready we will be more than happy to get settled in. I think my cousin and I will need some rest for the days to come."
With a small laugh, Temari gave them a look "Are you Hyuuga always this polite or is it just the two of you?" Came the blunt question. Temari was rewarded with a blink and a confused expression from Hinata before Neji cut in, bowing to Gaara before he turned to leave.
"Yes, we're always this polite." Came the flat answer from the male Hyuuga "All of us. Now then, I'd like to not waste any more of the Kazekage's time."
Hinata couldn't help the small smile that appeared on her face. Obviously, Neji was tired more than he was letting on; he was being a little snappish. That had been his way of telling Temari to 'shut up and drop it'.
The blonde seemed amused by this instead of insulted. With a small wave to Gaara she turned and led the two to their rooms.
"I have absolutely no idea how they can stand so much red in their décor," Neji remarked, walking into Hinata's room. His cousin was taking a little longer to get settled in, since she held more belongings. A picture of her team and one of Hanabi, her, and himself were already resting on top of her dresser, bringing a small smile to his face. Putting a shirt in one of the drawers she rose and turned to him, her smile impish.
"It's…it's not so bad," tucking strands of dark hair behind her ear, she let out a small sigh and stretched. "Besides, we have a lot of white at home so…"
Neji shrugged and moved deeper into the room, unable to argue her point. Taking a good look at his cousin, it was easy to tell that she was tired from the trip. The dry air and the heat of the sun had made her long hair a little frizzy, her face was flushed and her eyes were slightly droopy. Both of them were dirty simply from walking, the dusty wind having coated their skin and clothes.
"Hinata-sama, you should get some rest," he made sure that his voice was soft and, hopefully, somewhat soothing. Knowing her, and he knew her well, she would shower and then would want to go and take a look at the greenhouse and introduce herself to the staff she would be teaching.
He almost smiled when she hesitated and had started to raise her hands up towards her chest, only to realize what she was about to do and drop them back to her sides with another sigh. In those few movements he knew that she had considered arguing the point, realized that she probably wouldn't win against her protective cousin, and admitted defeat. Good for her, as he had already several arguments against her lined up. When it came to her taking care of herself, Neji never lost an argument.
"Once I finish unpacking, I'll shower and take a nap," she promised before worry crossed her features "You…you will wake me up in time for the dinner, won't you Neji-niisan?"
Closing his eyes, he did give her a brief smile before regarding her again. Hinata was very worried about making a good impression it seemed. "Of course I will."
This time she did begin to fidget, causing the male Hyuuga to frown slightly. "I…I was thinking of maybe wearing one of the more formal kimono but…what if it's too formal and I end up standing out?" Hinata bit her lower lip and looked up at him with such a comically sad expression that he actually had to turn his gaze from her. If he didn't stop her, she would start to babble and become even more anxious. "What if-?"
"Hinata-sama," he calmly interjected, "you will be fine and look wonderful in whatever you decide to wear. You're worrying too much over all of this. It's understandable, this project is very large and you are directly in charge of it, but Tsunade-sama and Haruno-san would not have asked you to volunteer if they doubted your capabilities."
As far as Neji was concerned, Hinata was damned good at her job. As a medical ninja she had started her training later than the Yamanaka and Haruno, but she had proved herself no less dedicated or determined. At twenty years old she had become a jounin and was assigned her own wing to manage at the hospital. Haruno was of course over her in ranking and position, but Hinata was still highly regarded as an excellent medical shinobi. After this mission, Neji was sure that Hinata would more than likely begin to slowly take over the Hyuuga, as Hiashi had hinted to him quite a few times that he was ready to pass on the mantle.
Even after all these years she still underestimates her true strength.
"Th-thank you…" she blushed at the compliment and then turned toward her clothes. Neji decided that was his cue to leave. Hinata was horrible concerning accepting compliments or praises, so it was usually best to leave it alone.
Returning to his room, he had his own shower and decided to walk around the vicinity to get his bearings. Even without the Byakugan he was able to quickly memorize the layout of the wing they were in and the route to the Kazekage's office, which he would possibly be frequenting over the next few days. Temari had stated that Gaara had wanted to speak to him, but perhaps that would come at a later time, in another day or so.
He didn't run into anyone familiar as he explored and the only people he did bump into had seemed to be the maids or other servants. He found the kitchen – he would have to tell Hinata how to get here since she would immediately want to start trying to cook – and a common area that held two couches, two recliners, a coffee table and a television. To his disappointment, he discovered that this section did not hold a library, so he had no book he could read to pass the time.
With that he went back to his room and meditated, followed by a short nap before going to wake Hinata in enough time for her to get ready. He found her in her woolen cloud pajamas, half of her on the bed and the other half on the floor. Her long dark hair was all over the place, she definitely would need some help. With an amused sigh he woke her up and stood back as she began to sift through the closet where she placed had all of her kimonos.
Knowing if he didn't give her some advice she'd probably end up slightly panicking, he sat down on the edge of her bed and crossed his arms.
"The plain dark blue kimono should be fine, Hinata-sama."
Her wide eyes shifted to him, worry clearly etched on her face. "Do…do you think that it would…"
"Hinata-sama." When he continued to stare she eventually let out the breath she had been holding in and gave him a lopsided smile.
"I really am over thinking this, aren't I?"
"Yes," he stood up "the thing you should be worried about is your hair, since it's all tangled and will need to be brushed. You don't have to put your hair up if you don't want to, though."
From there Hinata rushed into her bathroom and emerged a bit later with her kimono on, finishing up a few loose ends. He volunteered to brush her hair to which she readily agreed, not wanting to deal with the long tresses. In all honesty, Neji actually enjoyed brushing Hinata's hair. Ever since she had let it grow out it had become silky and soft. He wasn't entirely sure why but he liked the feel of her hair sliding through his fingers. Maybe it was simply because it had become a way for them to slowly bond over the years and any bond with Hinata was important to him. She was important to him, although he did not always show it.
He did actually pin her hair up, as requested, and the two of them left shortly after to the small dining room area he was sure the dinner would take place in. They ran into Temari along the way, who had been coming to retrieve them, and the two Hyuuga enjoyed a pleasant and small meal with the Kazekage and his siblings.
I'm going to have to change my wardrobe very soon. Hinata thought as she trekked through the village wearing her long sleeved jacket and pants. How the Kazekage walked around comfortably in a long sleeved turtleneck and heavy looking pants was beyond her level of comprehension. She was hot and it was only seven in the morning.
This morning she was following Temari to the hospital, where she'd meet the staff she would be working with on the project. Mostly she was to train them in any healing methods that they didn't quite understand and discuss the full workings of how they wanted the project to go. There was a lot more to it than that, but for now she wanted to focus on making a good first impression.
There was one thing she was thankful for and that was air conditioning. All of the buildings in Suna had a beautifully run air conditioning system and the hospital was no exception. She didn't even try to hide her sigh of relief as cool air hit her and she pointedly ignored Temari's small laugh at her expense.
The hospital wasn't nearly as large or up to date on medical equipment as Hinata had hoped. One of the first things she would have to report would be to purchase new equipment. Despite the slightly cramped hallways and somewhat outdated technology, the atmosphere was bright and pleasant. The medical staff didn't seem tired or overworked, patients seemed to be well taken care of. Definitely good signs.
The medical team assigned to the project consisted of four individuals. One was a woman who looked in her thirties named Kaede, who Hinata discovered actually all but ran the hospital. The other three were males, none of them under the age of twenty. One had looked so feminine she had ended up embarrassing herself when she addressed him as 'her' and was lightly corrected with smiles on everyone's faces.
After introductions were made the group escorted her to the greenhouse where they kept all of their herbs and other medicinal plants. The stock that Konoha had sent a week prior had already arrived and was currently in its own small section, some of the seeds already planted in pots and being tended to. Hinata was given a full inventory of what Suna currently held, similar to the one that she had read in the mission report, and was shown the library where all of the medical books were held. Hinata's shipment of books would arrive within another week or so, to which the Suna personnel were welcome to copy from and create their own books. Unfortunately the books that Konoha held did not have any extra in print so it had been expressed that she would have to send them back as soon as possible. The more important medical books, especially the ones created by the Nara, would remain in Konoha. Hinata informed them that Suna was more than welcome to send a small team once the project was fully established to acquire that information.
When Hinata returned she found that Neji was in a meeting with the Kazekage, so she went to her room to begin to make plans for her upcoming lessons and to write her first report. From what she understood of it, Gaara wanted the reports delivered to him by her personally, so they could discuss anything he didn't understand or had questions about. It all hit her then, that she really was here in Suna, that she really was going to be teaching people who probably held more years of experience and skill than she, and that she really was going to be the person even the Kazekage would depend on for the success of this project.
With a deep breath and a slightly shaky hand, she sat down at her desk and began to write her first report.